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Songs for 'social distancing' 

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With concert events and gatherings of all kinds being canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the term "social distancing" is suddenly (and rightly) in vogue. Whether these new guidelines for staying healthy and limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus feel like coerced introspection or just business as usual, it's already become abundantly clear that the way we as Rochesterians — and as a society at large — consume music in the coming days and weeks is changing drastically.

But even as we give each other space and avoid attending live music events, now is not the time to disconnect from local musicians. It's just the opposite. Whether you're patronizing artists' Bandcamp pages, subscribing to their Patreon pages for exclusive content you can't get elsewhere, or watching a band's livestream performance from the comfort of your couch and tipping accordingly, there are plenty of ways to support the Rochester-area musicians you love during this challenging time of canceled shows and severely reduced incomes.

With that in mind, here's a set of 14 songs from various Rochester musicians and others with local ties, to pass the time as you wait things out at home. From beautiful folk songs to easy-listening funk and jazz instrumentals to soothing pop-soul tunes, this playlist is meant to ease the nerves and boost your mood, even if some of the songs give off vaguely apocalyptic vibes.

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Though the husband-and-wife duo of Timothy and Kathy Dick now live in Arizona, their formerly Rochester-based band Auld Lang Syne spent many years here writing exquisite songs. And to my ears, "Last of the Honeybees" represents the pinnacle. A modern folk masterpiece, the song is a dirge written in memory of innocence lost and humanity's potential for good and beauty. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and sparse percussion, Timothy Dick sings with the heartbreak of an earnest troubadour, joined by a small chamber choir for what I can only describe as the most brilliant choral arrangement I've ever heard in a pop song. Despite the seemingly dreary outlook in the words, there's something uplifting and transcendent about the music itself that projects a bleary-eyed optimism.

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Another song featuring rich harmonies from a couple, "Where We Are" by Americana-folk outfit The Crooked North radiates the kind of homespun warmth that only traditional bluegrass instrumentation can provide. In gently lilting tones, Ben and Rita Proctor sing a love song in which two people find a spark, but can't quite seem to connect and make the relationship last. With backing from guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, and fiddle, "Where We Are" recalls the sound of the pop-bluegrass trio Nickel Creek, circa 2000. It's all  very  bittersweet, and totally on-point.

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"Blood Bear," the opening track from Annika Bentley on her "Silver Recovery" EP, is a stunning bit of R&B-pop that'll grip you right from the beginning. Moody piano chords quickly open up into a soulful ballad spearheaded by Bentley's dynamic vocals. The strength and vibrancy of her performance can't be overstated, as she sings about leaving behind a once-smoldering romance that has since faded.It's all very decadent somehow; your ears will thank you for indulging in this tune.

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Cammy Enaharo's "Home" is equally soulful, if more understated. Accompanying herself with her trusty baritone ukulele, Enaharo is supported by the bassist Ryder Eaton and percussionist Gary Lamaar, whose funk-jazz bass lines and light swing rhythms add extra pep to Enaharo's pop-folk charm. The popular Rochester songwriter sings of leaving a busy party in favor of the comfort of home, as she contemplates giving a budding relationship the time and space to grow.

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The next three songs are tasty instrumentals perfect for maximizing your chill factor. Vanishing Sun is a local band that is due for a bigger breakout, and its fusion of funk, soul, and jazz is downright delectable. On "The Drift," from the album "Supernova," sax and guitar solos veer off into the stratosphere, while the groove in the keyboards and rhythm section keep things rooted. Improvisational jazz trio Dream Float lays down some slick rhythms of its own on "Salvo Apocalypto," a piano-led affair that combines a kind of classical grandeur with Latin-infused beats and a silky smooth, funk-tinged bass line. This stuff is way too substantive to simply be labeled "easy listening," but it is easy on the ears. Things take a turn toward the ambient on "Contrails" by Tigue, a trio of New York City-based percussionists and Eastman School alumni. If you like ethereal drone music you can just bliss out to, this track is a keeper.

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Here's where the playlist gets mercurial.  Hinkley's "Let's Rot Together" is a joyful, buzzy blend of jangly melodies and guitar noise, resulting in a throwback to 90s indie rock that's well worth the trip. "Into the Mystery" by Ryan Flynn is dance-inducing electro-pop, straight-up. If you're not tapping toes or bobbing your head to this song, it may be time for some serious soul-searching. When it comes to Rochester hip-hop, it doesn't get much cleverer or ear-tickling than the music of Moses Rockwell. "Ghost Me," with a guest appearance by Gary Lamaar, has plenty of low-key poise, an intricate beat, and brilliant use of organ sounds. Expect some seriously witty flow that'll make you crack a smile or two.

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Sure, the music of King Buffalo has psychedelic tendencies and a certain progressive sensibility when it comes to shifting melodic themes and rhythms. But at its heart, this Rochester rock trio simply has the sense to give its songs the time and space needed to fully flesh out the grooves. I defy you to not fall in love with the recurring grunge riff on "Longing to Be the Mountain." Sit back, close your eyes, and lose yourself for the next ten minutes.

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"Paranoia"
is part of musician-illustrator-writer Dave Chisholm's soundtrack to his graphic novel "Instrumental," the story of a struggling jazz trumpeter who happens upon a special horn that can reverse his fortunes, but also usher in the apocalypse. With Chisholm taking the lead on the trumpet, "Paranoia" is a dream-like haze of harmonic textures, hyperactive drumming, and sultry energy.

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Things calm down with Siena's "Dear House" a brooding piano ballad that echoes ethereally throughout. Ephemeral energy pulses through this pop song, energized by Siena Faciolo's ardent vocal delivery. Lyrically, love and loneliness commingle: "Our house, resting strong, on the hill, all alone, wears its heart out." The vibe is desolate, but the sound is sweet.



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The "Songs for 'Social Distancing' playlist closes with the only cover of the bunch, an inspired rendition of Radiohead's unlikely '90s hit "Creep," sung by Danielle Ponder. At this point, it's hard to infuse this oft-covered song with new energy and fresh purpose. But Ponder succeeds mightily, precisely because she makes it her own. The familiar, reverb-drenched chord progression — played with intent by pianist Avis Reese— remains intact, but Ponder departs from the original melody at all the right moments, adding greater melodic interest and emotional tension. The Rochester soul queen makes "Creep" the anthem it was never really meant to be. It would have been enough for this version to merely be hauntingly beautiful, but Ponder takes defeatist lyrics and transforms them into something empowering.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.

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